The Philadelphia Eagles signed free agent wide receiver Markus Wheaton earlier this month. Wheaton is coming off an abysmal season with the Bears where he was targeted 17 times and only managed to log three receptions for 51 yards. But prior to his struggles in Chicago, Wheaton was once a third-round pick in Pittsburgh who showed some promise with the Steelers.
In order to get to know more about Wheaton, and if there’s still hope for him in Philly, I reached out to writers who used to cover him: Jeff Hartman from Behind The Steel Curtain and Lester A. Wiltfong Jr. from Windy City Gridiron.
1 - Can you sum up Wheaton’s career with the Steelers?
Markus Wheaton had a rough go of it in Pittsburgh, and not all was really his fault. His rookie season was marred by an injury to his fingers which equated to him watching more than playing. And after his rookie season he never really got the chance to shine due to the likes of Martavis Bryant and Antonio Brown stealing the show on a weekly basis. If you want to see what Wheaton is capable of, I recommend you check out the 2015 game in Seattle where he went off after the Seahawks put all their attention on Brown and Bryant. He is a good route runner with good speed, better than average hands and is a great team player.
2 - What were his strengths
Wheaton’s strengths were his versatility and route running. Wheaton has the entire route tree at his disposal, and can play both inside and outside. He can be a player who can abuse mismatches when moving him around the formation.
3 - What were his weaknesses?
Besides injuries, Wheaton was never the most reliable receiver for the Steelers. There was a game in Philadelphia a few years ago when the Steelers took the opening kickoff down the field with ease, Roethlisberger hit Wheaton between the numbers and he dropped it. Chris Boswell missed the FG and the wheels literally fell off. That is just one play, but is certainly emblematic of Wheaton’s inconsistencies at times.
4 - What was the reaction from Steelers fans when Pittsburgh decided not to keep him and let him sign with the Bears?
They wished him well. Fans knew the team wouldn’t bring him back, they simply had too many receivers to pay Wheaton what he wanted. Like I said earlier, he is the furthest thing from a diva receiver. True team player, great in the community...just an upstanding individual. There was no bad blood when he hit the free agent market.
5 - To what extent did his struggles in Chicago surprise you? Based on your time watching him play for the Steelers, do you think there is still hope for him?
If Wheaton can stay healthy, and is in the right system with a good quarterback, he can still make plays. I am not sure if he still has the speed he had a few years ago, but the majority of his injuries haven’t been to his lower body, which makes me feel he should still have the burst needed at the WR position. I wouldn’t expect him to come close to 1,000 yards receiving, but he can be a situational player for the Eagles, no doubt.
1 - Can you sum up his time with the Bears?
His time as a Bear was very forgetable.
Wheaton was signed to a ridiculous contract considering his limited success he had in Pittsburgh. He flashed some big play ability with the Steelers, but injuries limited his chances. For some reason Bears’ GM Ryan Pace thought a two year deal for $11 million ($5 million guaranteed) was a wise decision, and it was that deal that really sticks out as the problem for him in Chicago. That contract inflated the expectations many fans had for him, and with only three catches in eleven games, we’re glad he’s gone.
2 - After showing some kind of promise with the Steelers, why do you think Wheaton was unable to do anything in Chicago?
It was injuries again. Appendicitis followed by a broken finger, then a groin injury kept him from getting any sort of rhythm in the offense. And speaking of that offense, it was crap most of the year. John Fox’s conservative gameplans allowed defenses to dictate the flow of the game, Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains’ run, run, pass sequences wasn’t fooling anyone either. Part of it was them breaking in a rookie quarterback, but Wheaton couldn’t get on the field much anyway.
3 - Do you think there’s any hope for Wheaton being able to revive his career?
I do, but he has to stay healthy. He is a good athlete and he’s entering a very good offense. If current Bears’ head coach Matt Nagy would have wanted to keep him in Chicago, I think he could have had some success here. A smart offense would scheme him into a position to make plays, and that’s exactly what he’ll have a chance to do with the Eagles. He’s not winning a starting job, but as a 4th or 5th wide out he could make the team.